Life is not easy for Lisa Samuels; an epilepsy sufferer with no family of her own, she has a mortgage but no job - and no car.

Struggling to get by on a sickness benefit and living in a house with rotting weatherboarding and window framing, it seemed things couldn't get much worse - only they did.

First there was the $20,000 needed for the urgent maintenance on her Manurewa house - an amount she knew she could never find - and then a final whammy: she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Samuels remembers the despair she felt when told about this latest setback 15 months ago: "It was a complete shock," she says. "I felt like I was going through hell."

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But then the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO) came knocking with an offer to carry out most of her house repair work - for free.

"At first I said I didn't have the money to pay them," she says, "but they said it would cost nothing." Samuels recalls her one word reaction: "What?"

The work on her house was chosen by BCITO as part of its Not Your Average Tradie Road Trip, in which a group of BCITO apprentices are travelling the country to help community groups, schools and charities with building projects.

The trip is designed to attract more people into the trades at a time when 50,000 more workers will be needed in the construction industry in the next five years as the building boom continues. About half of these will need to be qualified trades people.

"Of course we couldn't fix all her problems," says BCITO chief executive Warwick Quinn.

"But the scale of them was the reason we decided to help in this small way."

Samuels came to the attention of BCITO because she had initially approached Habitat for Humanity for help, a non-profit group which builds and repairs houses for people in need. Unable to secure finance for the job (the cost was estimated at $20,000), the work was never started.

But when looking for a Habitat for Humanity project to include in the road trip, BCITO chose the Samuels job and in three days its team replaced the rotten weatherboard cladding and window frames, removed trees overhanging her garage, took away a skip bin full of rubbish and carried out extensive repairs to her deck including re-roofing with fibreglass sheeting, water-blasting and replacing rotten decking.

They also left her with enough paint to cover the deck, a job which Samuels attacked herself in the days following the BCITO work.

"I really don't know what to say," she says. "The roof used to leak and I would use an old ice-cream carton to catch the drips. I couldn't appreciate it more what they've done, it's been bloody excellent."

Although she has managed to keep her house because her mortgage is a small one (she says her repayments are next-to-nothing), Samuels says it has not been easy.

"In this time I was made redundant from my job (she was a fork hoist driver), got diagnosed with epilepsy and then 15 months ago during a regular check-up doctors found a lump in my left breast."

After undergoing an operation to remove the breast three months of chemotherapy followed, a process she likened to going through hell: "My hair was falling out and I was vomiting a lot. The only good thing was when I was diagnosed they practically had me in Auckland Hospital straight away for the operation."

Although recovering well from her mastectomy, Samuels continues to take medication to control her epilepsy: "I was born with it but didn't know until I was diagnosed. It will never go away," she says.

Samuels has battled these setbacks largely alone. Although she has brothers and sisters living in other parts of Auckland, she has no partner and no children - and with no car she resorts to walking the 20 minutes to the nearest shops or takes the bus.

Quinn says they chose to help Samuels because her breast cancer therapy could lower her resistance to common ailments, particularly with winter at hand.

"Because of this - and worry over the state her house was in - she is susceptible to stress related disorders and respiratory infections due to cold and wind draft," he says.
"We believe the repairs will improve the cold factor in her home and result in a better recovery prognosis."

Quinn says the Tradie Road Trip has a group of up to 10 apprentices working on projects in Auckland, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Wanaka. Trades involved include carpentry, flooring, interior systems, joinery, pre-cast concrete and painting and decorating.

He says thousands more apprentices are needed to cope with building consents which are running at a 40-year high. Construction is the fifth largest sector in New Zealand by employment with over 178,000 fulltime jobs and together with construction-related services, contributed eight per cent to the New Zealand GDP in 2015.




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